Here’s a sip for your teatime pleasure…
Chapter 1 of Death in a Teacup
While being gored to death by an enraged elephant is hardly a fitting end for a gentleman, it was a suitable conclusion for a hunter with no morals. Or so I reassured myself. As my opinion on the matter was clearly at variance with the majority of the funeral attendees, I maintained a cordial silence.
“How distressing it is,” Cilla whispered to me as we followed the line of mourners toward the patch of land reserved for the disposal of human bodies.
“Indeed it is,” I replied, inspecting the ends of my long, dark braid. “It is now past afternoon tea, and there’s no sign of this business finishing soon.”
My dearest friend merely sighed and shook her head, a strand of her dark blond hair swishing against her round, rosy cheeks. “Surely you can’t be so disinterested,” she said, her blue eyes bright with tears.
Smirking slightly, I said, “Surely I can.”
Ignoring the glare bestowed upon me by a mourner, I stared past the small graveyard and out to the savannah. The return of the rains had transformed the dusty, dry land into a herbivore’s paradise.
Tall grass blanketed the land in green, and flowers of red, yellow and orange covered the trees. The scent of the flowers mingled with that of fresh grass and rich earth. The number of birds and insects had exploded, filling the air with a variety of calls, chirps and songs. Giraffe strolled amongst herds of fattened zebra and dark-skinned wildebeest. Of the elephants there was no sign.
Cilla clucked and said, “Do try to behave, Beatrice.”
“That might prove difficult,” I muttered, my eyes narrowing. If anyone had dared stare at me, they would have noticed a peculiar yellow glint to my light hazel eyes. The yellow was the only obvious indication of the werewolf bite bestowed upon me while I was a child; when I was irritated, the color tended to be more noticeable.
The other symptom of that bite, a wolf energy which was connected to my own, twitched within the delicate clockwork mechanism of my metal left hand. I had only to think the command, and the wolf would leap out and cause havoc. Admittedly, I was tempted.
Glancing at me, her blue eyes wide with concern, Cilla said, “Please control your wolf.”
Impressed she’d divined the direction of my thoughts, I clenched my left hand, the various cogs and metal bones glinting in the sunlight. “But of course.”
The lack of tea and other sustenance had plunged me into a foul mood. Relishing the heft of my walking stick, I slashed it against unoffending underbrush. I wasn’t infirm or crippled by any means. Nor was I too old, having only recently survived my twenty-sixth birthday—much to my surprise and my family’s delight. However, the oxide green metal walking stick was a most useful tool for a paranormal investigator, filled as it was with tools tucked inside hidden compartments. At that moment, I was considering using the sleeping darts on the minister if he dawdled overly with his graveside speech.
“All this fuss for what?” I asked.
“Beatrice Knight Timmons, you don’t mean that,” Cilla scolded me, attempting to appear firm and aggrieved but she was too gentle to be anything but kind. “Mr. Turner is dead. He was such a young man, tragically removed from life before he could truly begin it, trampled by a rampaging elephant.”
The mention of the murderous animal called to mind the elephant herd which had not so long ago assisted us in a battle with an army of skeletons. I recalled with a soft smile the matriarch and her sweet, tiny baby, both of whom—according to Koki the she-demon—were my friends forever. This inevitably turned my thoughts to my own as-yet unborn baby, a secret I had revealed to no one. Resisting the urge to place a hand over my abdomen, I returned to the conversation.
“And what of the elephant?” I asked, glancing at the front of the crowd of mourners where a coffin was being lowered to the ground by several of the young man’s fellow hunters. “No one has spared even a moment to consider the feelings of that poor beast, shot down in the prime of life. How many little Loxodonta africana orphans are created by the cruelty of these visiting hunters?”
“Then why did you come?”
“You insisted,” I said, not bothering to add that I fervently wished I had declined the invitation. The only possible excuse available to me—bouts of nausea and an unnatural debilitation which had plagued me for the first few weeks of my pregnancy—had passed as rapidly as it had appeared. The unfortunate timing of my improved health allowed me no excuse as I was more than capable of attending the funeral.
“Beatrice, I know you miss Simon,” Cilla said. “I do too. But if anyone can defeat trumped-up charges, it’s my uncle. Don’t worry.”
At the mention of my husband, my throat constricted. I’d lost track of the days since he’d left for London. Under arrest for attacking his former fiancée, Simon Timmons had decided to face the court rather than escape with our friends into the wilderness of Africa. Not a day passed when I didn’t think of him and worry about our future while cursing his obstinance.
No further conversation was possible for at that moment, a hush descended on the crowd as the minister launched into a long-winded speech in a droning voice. “We can only find comfort in the divine promise of eternal life,” he pronounced as he scratched the side of his bony nose. “And in the fact that Mr. Turner, in his last moment of life, killed the elephant with one shot through the eye and into the brain.”
“Lucky shot,” I muttered. Cilla jabbed me in the side with her elbow.
Standing at the edge of the open grave, the minister gazed out at the crowd, raised a hand to the sky and concluded, “We can all rest easy knowing the savage beast is dead.”
“By savage beast, is he referring to the elephant or Mr. Turner?” I whispered to Cilla.
“Hush,” she said as the coffin was lowered into the hole.
Sighing, I glanced around the newly delineated cemetery. There was no reason why that plot had been selected over the neighboring plot; indeed, there was no distinguishing markers at all apart from a hastily erected fence. At least the dead would have a decent view of the forested slopes to one side and the savannah stretching out to the distant horizon on the other.
Turning away from the hole in the ground, I studied the small town of Nairobi. It wasn’t much to look at really: a huddle of shops and offices lined a dirt road named after our monarch Queen Victoria; the ramshackle Bazaar sprawled around one end of town; and to one side squatted the tented camp which housed the Indians who were in British East Africa to construct Her Majesty’s railway across the colonies. Even from this distance, I could see the stains of red clay soil and dust on the canvas tents and the growing pile of camp-related debris.
“Beatrice,” Cilla hissed and elbowed me sharply.
Obediently I turned to face the minister who predictably had much to say about a man he had never known. I’d hoped that perhaps Gideon, my dead first husband, would attend, thus entertaining me with graveside antics that would certainly have been inappropriate but highly amusing. Alas, he refrained as did my other paranormal acquaintances and family members.
It was therefore with great relief that I observed the lowering of the coffin into the hole. Members of the East African Ladies League, led by their chairwoman Mrs. Mayence Bent, clustered around the bereaved, ostensibly to provide consolation but in reality to mine them for any gems of gossip. After all, Nairobi had been quiet as of late. Even the heavy April rains, prolonged by a perverse fit of nature into June, had petered out, leaving in its wake the perpetually overcast sky of the cool, dry season that some referred to as winter.
As there was no reason to remain, I started along the path leading to town, the chatter of the gossips fading behind me. Fervently I hoped that Jonas, my gardener and driver, hadn’t taken it upon himself to depart for home.
Leaning close to me and speaking in a conspiratorial whisper, Cilla said, “I heard from Mrs. Bent that our new mayor has formed a committee to better organize the town and more closely monitor hunting activities. And he’s single.”
“And you’re engaged to my brother,” I said. “Really, you should leave such commentaries to the unattached girls.”
Cilla giggled. “I have no interest in the new mayor,” she reassured me. “While he is pleasing in his form and manner, he’s rather dull compared to our family, wouldn’t you agree?”
I smiled and said, “If there’s one thing we are not, it’s dull.”
As if the mere thought summoned him, a bloodsucking firefly zipped before my eyes.
“Miss Knight,” he said, his silky voice filling my mind. “Hurry home.”
“Stop with the charm, Yao,” I grumbled and shook my head to clear the unseemly thoughts that the shape-shifting vampire always engendered in me.
“Yao is sorry,” he said and landed on my shoulder. “But have you arranged for the negotiation with Jonas?”
“How terribly romantic,” Cilla said, placing her hands over her heart.
“Hardly,” I said, glancing around to ensure we couldn’t be overheard chatting with an insect. “I have to persuade my gardener to give up his only daughter to a firefly in exchange for a few cows.”
“Adze,” Yao corrected, shaking his little wings. “Yao is an Adze, and Jonas will receive more than a few cows. My beloved Wanjiru is worth more than that.”
“At any rate, I’ve arranged for the negotiation,” I said, relieved to see our two-wheeled wagon up ahead near the outskirts of Nairobi. Jonas was leaning against the ox, pretending indifference at the approaching crowd of mourners. Nelly, my flying horse, was deflowering an angel’s trumpet bush, oblivious to the poisonous nature of the plant. “We’ll formally meet in three days, so there’s no need for me to hurry home at all.”
Yao buzzed closer to my ear, the beating of his little wings tickling me. “Yes, there is,” he argued, but I heard the mischief in his voice even before he added, “Miss Knight, you need to hurry home because you have a special guest waiting.”
“I wasn’t expecting visitors,” I said.
Yao chuckled. “No one ever expects Death to visit them until he does. Now he is here and he’s waiting for you.”